Staying Sober Around Friends Who Drink
No matter how old we are, peer pressure can still have incredible influence over our lives.
Our friends put pressure on us, and we do it back to them. It can be pressure to have a piece of cake when we’re trying to eat better, pressure to stay out one more hour even though you have work the next day, or pressure to drink alcohol when you’re trying to stay sober.
Our friends can be our greatest support systems or our worst enablers. When you make a major life change like quitting alcohol, you quickly find out who is who.
Why is everyone trying to get me to drink?
Before you dismiss your pals as unsupportive assholes, there is a reason your buddies are giving you the ole, “oh c’mon, have just one glass with us!”
Maybe it IS because they are unsupportive assholes, but it can also be because humans are innately tribal beings. We are evolutionarily programmed to “to support group cohesion by conforming to group norms and shunning non-conformity.”
When we do something major like quit drinking, an activity that has generally bonded the group, we’ve essentially violated previously established social norms. Whether they’re conscious of it or not, this is threatening to the other members of the group.
Here’s a quote by Dr. Simon Lenton from his piece in The Conversation that helps explain this behavior:
“As I say to clients in my clinical psychology practice, when you decide you want to cut down or stop drinking, it can be a bit like you are holding up a mirror to your mates that says “I’ve decided my drinking needs to change and maybe you should look at your own drinking”.
At an almost unconscious level, they can try and resolve this discomfort by encouraging you to start drinking again, just like them. And of course, even if they might be supportive of your intentions not to drink when they are sober, after they’ve had a few drinks, they may be more likely to put pressure on you to drink.”
Dr. Lenton also suggests that by announcing that we’re quitting drinking, we are subconsciously signaling to the group that there is something wrong with THEIR drinking. It feels like judgment and can be met with hostility and defensiveness.
Understanding WHY your friends are putting the pressure on you can help you diffuse it. I’ve got a few tips for how to handle pushy pals without compromising your sobriety.
4 Tips For Handling Friends Who Still Drink When You’re Sober
1. Be honest with your friends.
If you feel like the vibe is off or they’re being pushy with you, even if it’s passive aggressive, talk to them. It may not be that your friends are shoving drinks in your face at dinner, but maybe you’re getting a lot of sarcastic comments or “jokes” at your expense.
Are your friends sending you lame sobriety memes about how your life is going to be boring forever? Is someone cracking jokes at dinner while the wine bottle gets passed around?
“Oh, don’t let Alicia get that bottle. Shes SOOOBBBERRRRR.”
I don’t know your friend group’s dynamics, BUT these are (in my humble opinion) big red flags.
Call them out and have a serious conversation about what’s going on with the group. I would NOT recommend doing it in the middle of dinner or your bestie’s housewarming party but find a time when everyone is coherent and calm.
Let them know you understand it’s a little weird with you not drinking and you’re not trying to make anyone feel like their drinking is wrong, but the jokes and jabs aren’t helping you. Reinforce that what you’re doing is important to you and you need them to be more supportive.
People who are supportive and healthy for you to be around are going to apologize. My bad. And then they’re going to make a conscious effort to not be a douchebag anymore.
What if my friends aren’t being receptive?
Let’s say the aforementioned heart-to-heart with your buddies didn’t go as planned. You’re getting met with eye rolls, calls to lighten up, and advice that you should learn to take a joke.
Again, BIG red flags.
You can TRY to let them know that actually, you’re being very serious and they need to cut it out or you’re not going to be around. Maybe that will work. But more than likely you will need to brace yourself for some serious impact.
As difficult as it is, you can’t keep people around you who don’t support your sobriety. You’re not being lame for reacting to them like this. THEY’RE the ones being unreasonable.
Don’t let these alleged friends of yours pressure you into thinking that you’re being dramatic or silly for asking them to stop doing things that threaten your sobriety.
Even if it’s a manifestation of their own discomfort with your decision, which is making them feel like maybe they, too, have an issue with drinking, shut it down. That’s not your concern.
You are your biggest priority right now and if someone is not along for the ride. Let them go.
2. Be More Selective About When You Hang Out Together
Sobriety is an adjustment for everyone involved.
In the early days, it’s important to focus on social activities that don’t center around alcohol. Even if your friends are not outwardly pressuring you to drink, just being around everyone as they’re drinking can spark internal pressure to cave.
Set everyone up for success.
Politely decline invites to activities that you are not 100% confident you can handle sober.
I highly recommend avoiding bars and pubs in the beginning. Even if you’ve had a previously successful outing with your bestie ordering only ginger ale and limes, you’re playing with fire every time you go.
I, too, can order off the Skinnylicious menu at The Cheesecake Factory and feel good about it at the time. But I also know that at some point, I’m probably going to cave and get the nachos for which I will hate myself immediately (once I’ve recovered from my food coma).
Avoiding the boozy scenes may mean that you’re doing some earlier-in-the-day small group or one-on-one meetups with your friends, and that’s okay. There is no law that says your social life is only valid if it’s happening at night.
3. Always Have An Escape Plan
I get it. You like hanging out with your friends at happy hour, eating discount wings, and talking shit about anything and everything. You all are the bestest besties that ever bested.
You’re an adult. You can go if you want to, but make sure you have a plan for how to handle anything tricky.
Let your people know that if you start to feel too tempted or if it gets past (whatever time) in the evening, you’ll need to leave.
Here’s the thing. The SOBER version of your friends may be cool with this.
Yah, man. No worries. We got you!
The DRUNK version of your friends, however, can be a little fuzzy with the boundaries.
If it looks like your friends might be venturing into the land of the drunk and ridiculous, that’s your cue to head home. Will they blow up your phone with incoherent texts and regrettable videos later on in the night? Probably.
But you can return the favor at 8 AM when you’re up and they’re in bed dying a slow death. What are friends for, amirite?
4. Let Them Come To You
If things have gotten awkward since you stopped drinking, it’s fine to put a little space between you and your friends, especially if yours was a boozy bunch.
Remember – first things first.
Before anything and everything, your sobriety. Don’t waste a lot of mental and emotional energy trying to dissect what that means in the long term. You’ll drive yourself crazy (and potentially relapse).
Today, you’re not going to drink and if that means that TODAY, you don’t hang out with your crew, then that’s all it means. You don’t need to assign any more meaning to it than that.
Your friends may end up surprising you. One or two might call you up to grab coffee and chat and it will be like nothing’s changed at all. Or maybe everything has changed and that’s what they want to talk to you about. Maybe they’re thinking of quitting drinking as well.
The point is that you don’t have to take on the burden right now of deciding what is or isn’t becoming of your friendships.
If they’re not on board with it right now, no problem. You do you. They will do them. In time, one of two things will happen. Either they will seek you out and you’ll navigate your new, sober relationship OR time will do what it always does and you’ll move on.
Either way, today, you don’t need to concern yourself with any of this stuff.
Sobriety can feel lonely, but you are not alone.
If you’re feeling sad right now because your entire social circle seems to have abandoned you, please know that you are not alone.
You have a fantastically supportive community here, as well as other online spaces. Recovery Twitter is incredible, and there is always your local AA or other recovery programs you can turn to.
Do not despair.
That sounds a little intense, but that’s because (sometimes) it is. Whenever you find yourself questioning if you made the right choice by giving up drinking, remember your reasons for choosing sobriety.
If your friendships were predicated entirely on getting wasted together, then perhaps they weren’t real friendships. Or maybe they’re not right for you now, but in the future, they will be. Whatever the case, don’t take any of it personally.
Easier said than done, I know. But if you’re not seeing your pals because they’d rather get shit-faced then hang with you, that’s on them.
You’re doing an incredible thing for yourself and that’s going to attract like-minded people. Be patient and let time do its thing.
Journal Activity To Help You Handle Friends Who Still Drink
Today, I want you to take some time to think about your social circle now that you’ve decided to stop drinking.
- Are your friends generally supportive of your sobriety? Write about that.
- Do any of your friends give you a hard time? How do you feel about that? What do you plan to do?
- Do you feel like you’re missing out right now or is your social life still pretty active? Why do you think that is?
- Is there anyone with whom you need to have a difficult conversation? Who is it? What do you need to say?
- Have you attempted to hang out with people drinking since you stopped? What was that experience like?
Want more journaling ideas and support?
Because we all need a good laugh from time to time
Here’s a funny little clip from the BBC that I’m sure you’ll appreciate.